Round Core, Hex Core & why should it matter?! - Strings Pt.1
Strings are a pivotal part of our interaction with an instrument. First & foremost they're what our fingers come in contact with, they're what our pick strikes & what our pickups, well, pick-up! Therefore it's very important to think about what set you choose for you & your guitar, as they can affect the feel & tone significantly.
I've experimented quite a bit with various brands and types over the years. From the usual 'Off the Shelf' brands from my local guitar shops growing up like Ernie Ball, Rotosound or D'Addario for example. To importing brands myself like Pyramid or in some cases DR which were harder to get hold of (albeit a little easier now with some large online retailers stocking them). Strings have always been one of the main details I would continue to experiment with to try and refine the feel of my guitar, longevity and equally importantly, the tone.
Diagram sourced from Google - musicbytodd.com/
Most brands offer what's known as hex core strings, these are an industry standard really due to it's ease of mass production & lower manufacturing costs. I actually first became aware of the more traditionally made round core strings around 2010 and have solely used them ever since.
So, what's the difference? It's quite a simple one really & refers to the 'core' of the wound string. You can see this in the diagram above. Hex core has a hex shaped central wire, it has 6 edges and as the wire is wound around the core, it crimps the wire on those edges. That makes them easier to produce, helping bring down costs which is a place in the market they'll always have. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. But the downsides of hex is that It can gather grime, dust & dirt in the gaps between the core and the wind, meaning the strings go dead much quicker. Even when new, you can notice the tone, dynamic and feel to be a little lackluster depending on what you're used to. This is because of the hex core crimping the wind tightly against it causing dead spots.
Round core is as it says on the tin, the central core is completely round in construction meaning the wind evenly wraps around it and creates a more consistent string, resulting in a better feel. It's harder to make, usually meaning to get the best result they need to be wound by hand. As there are no crimps in the wind, there are no gaps for dirt to rest meaning they last much much longer, retaining a full, dynamic tone right across their lifespan. No need for coating! All coated strings are doing is creating a barrier to stop the dirt gathering in those hex gaps. That's handy for some players, but these are definitely 'Marmite' as some players are against coated strings, some love them. As with anything, it's all personal taste. But one thing I will say, is that there isn't a need for a coating when the string is made with a round core, coating is merely preventing dirt building up in the hex gaps. The longevity of the round core string is often greater than that of it's coated hex core counterpart. It's one thing to bare in mind if you've experimented with a few different types already.
The first thing that struck me about round core in comparison the the hex core I'd been used to, was the difference in tension across the set. Although they were same 11-50 gauge for example, as what I previously used in Hex Core based strings, these felt more taut, smoother and certainly gave an improved feel to the guitar. Tonally, both acoustically & electronically, there was dynamic sound to them, frequencies I hadn't experienced from my guitar before, overtones & harmonics which sounded just incredible to my ear. From then on I've been sold on Round Core! I found myself floating between various brands known for their round core strings, some great tonally, some inconsistent and some great value all things considered. But always willing to try new things and on the look out for brands doing things in a interesting way, naturally lead me to inquire about The Gabriel Tenorio String Co and their well reviewed hand wound, round core strings.
What sets Gabriel's strings apart is that he specifically designs them to suit the model of guitar they're destined for. So no generic off the shelf sets here, these are hand made with specific bridge types & scale lengths in mind. Creating gauges that are the most balanced for the specific guitar.
I'm going to talk more about The gts.co strings in detail in future blog posts, but I hope this one today helps those that perhaps haven't come across round core strings prior and what makes them different to the lower cost equivalent, hex core strings.